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Who We Are


 

 

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Who We Are


 

 

The Verge Team


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ALICE ZHANG

Chief Executive Officer, Co-founder

Alice has been at the forefront of systems biology research for over seven years, at the National Cancer Institute, the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University, and UCLA. During this time, she has co-authored four peer-reviewed papers in high profile journals such as Cell and Neuron. She graduated from Princeton University magna cum laude with high honors in Molecular Biology and is a 2012 recipient of the prestigious Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans. In 2010, she began training in the UCLA-Caltech MD/Ph.D. program, with a focus in neuroscience, where she spent five years investigating gene networks involved in neuro-regeneration. She was recently named as a Forbes 2017 30 Under 30 Featured Honoree. 

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VICTOR HANSON-SMITH, PHD

Head of Computational Biology

Victor is one of the world's leaders in mathematical modeling of eukaryotic genome evolution. He has co-authored over 11 publications in peer-reviewed journals such as Nature and Science; his work has been featured in the NYTimes and Washington Post. He received his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Oregon, and completed his postdoc in Sandy Johnson's group at UCSF. Additionally, he is a full-stack Django web developer on Amazon Web Services, with 15 years experience engineering in C/C++, Python, and Java.

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IRENE CHOI, PHD

Director, Drug Discovery

Irene has nine years of experience leading multiple neuroscience drug discovery programs from idea to clinic. Prior to Verge, she led early discovery, pharmacology, and program teams at Nektar Therapeutics. There, she helped bring several drugs to clinic, including NKTR-181, a first-in-class mu-opioid analgesic currently in Phase 3 clinical trials. Irene completed her post-doctoral training in Catherine Rivier's group at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and received her Ph.D. in Neurosciences from the University of New Mexico.

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MARK ROSEN, PHD

Director of Medicinal Chemistry

Mark is a medicinal chemist with over 15 years of experience bringing innovative drug candidates from concept to the clinic.  Prior to Verge, he served as Director of Medicinal Chemistry at Akebia Therapeutics and most recently Regulus Therapeutics.  Mark was also the co-founder and scientific head of Aetheria Therapeutics, a Johnson & Johnson spinout company.  Prior to Aetheria, he led medicinal chemistry and drug discovery programs at Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) for over a decade.  Mark earned his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of California, Irvine in the labs of Professor Larry Overman.

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BEN JACKSON, JD/MBA

VP of Operations and Finance

Ben has been managing and growing startups for more than a decade, most recently as Head of Operations at NoRedInk, where he lead strategy, FP&A, budgeting, recruiting, and people operations. He joined NoRedInk as employee #4 and the first business hire, helping the company scale to 75 employees and several million ARR. Ben was previously an attorney at Gunderson Dettmer where he advised tech companies on corporate and financing matters, and a co-founder of Rhythm Rhyme Results, an educational music company. Ben holds a JD/MBA from Stanford University and an AB in Linguistics from Harvard College.

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RAJ BHATNAGAR, PHD

Computational Biologist

Raj has over ten years of experience working at the interface of engineering and biology. His work draws inspiration from information theory and control systems to couple quantitative biological models with precise experimentation. Raj has co-authored eight publications in the fields of applied mathematics and computational biology, including a paper demonstrating a sequencing pipeline that enables a 10-100 fold decrease in the cost of profiling transcriptome activity. He received his BA in Mathematics and his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in 2011. He completed his postdoc in computational biology at UCSF.

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TONY ALTAR, PHD

Senior Scientific Fellow and Advisor

Tony has over 35 years of experience leading CNS drug discovery and development teams from idea to commercial success. As the former Global Head of Neuroscience at Otsuka, he led the team that discovered aripiprazole (Abilify™), the highest grossing drug worldwide in 2014, and elucidated its mechanism of action, enabling first-in class, FDA-approved uses in bipolar disease, depression, and schizophrenia. As Chief Scientific Officer at Assurex Health, he created pharmacogenomic products for ADHD and pain, and commercial successes yielded an acquisition by Myriad Genetics in 2016.  As CSO of Psychiatric Genomics, his teams were the first to pioneer microarray-based drug discovery in psychiatric diseases, revealing insulin signaling deficiency in schizophrenia. Tony also co-founded the Regeneron vision program, directed The Biomarkers Consortium of 125 government and industry participants, and led teams at Genentech. Tony has published over 135 papers in journals including Science and Nature.  He obtained his bachelors at UCLA, PhD in Psychology at UC Santa Barbara, and held a post-doctoral position in Psychobiology at UC Irvine.

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ERIK MILLER, PHD

Scientist, Drug Discovery

Erik has spent the last decade working at the intersection between molecular/cell biology and functional genomics. His work combines experimental molecular and cell biology techniques, such as culture mammalian tissue culture (ES cells, fibroblasts, neural differentiation, ex vivo neurons), with analysis of ultra high-throughput sequencing of functional genomic data such as ChIP-seq, MNase-seq, ATAC-seq, and others. He has co-authored seven publications in journals such as Nature, Cell, and Nature Genetics. Erik graduated manga cum laude from the University of Washington with a BS in Microbiology and received a Ph.D. in Genetics from Stanford University while working with Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Gerald Crabtree.

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ROBERT GALEMMO, PHD

Medicinal Chemist

Robert has had 34 years experience as a drug hunter and medicinal chemist. He was the first chemistry leader for a program that lead to the blockbuster drug apixaban/Eliquis®. He has worked in both big pharma settings, including DuPont and J&J, as well as mid stage biotechs, such as Elan and Neuromed. He received his PhD in Organic Chemistry from Ohio State University in 1984.

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NINGZHE ZHANG, PHD

Senior Scientist, Drug Discovery

Ningzhe is one of the world’s leaders in neurodegenerative stem cell modeling with 15 years of experience developing cutting-edge iPSC and rodent models of neurodegeneration. Ningzhe was the first scientist to genetically correct Huntington disease in a patient derived stem cell model. He has led industry collaborations with Novartis and BioMarin that have resulted in drugs now in active development. Ningzhe has co-authored over ten publications in journals such as Neuron and Cell Stem Cell. He received his Ph.D. from University of Rochester and spent ten years in Lisa Ellerby’s group as a postdoctoral fellow and staff scientist at Buck Institute for Research on Aging, focusing on understanding and treating Huntington disease with cutting edge technologies such as iPSC models, high throughput screening and CRISPR genome editing.

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KATJA HEBESTREIT, PHD

Computational Biologist

Katja has spent seven years using transcriptomics and epigenomics to study the molecular biology of aging and cancer and has co-authored over ten publications in journals such as Science, Nature Medicine, Blood, and Bioinformatics. After receiving her diploma in Statistics at the University of Dortmund, she became an expert in the analysis of DNA methylation data at the University of Münster, where she also received her Ph.D. She completed her postdoc in Anne Brunet’s group at Stanford University where she studied the transcriptomes of aging neural stem cells.

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FERNANDO MARTINEZ, PHD

Scientist, Drug Discovery

Fernando has thirteen years of hands-on experience that span across industry, startup and academic research. During his doctoral work at UCSD, Fernando identified a new function for an ALS causal gene by combing cutting-edge methods in stem cell biology, biochemistry, and genomics. Before that, Fernando was an early employee at iPierian where he created the first “disease-in-a-dish” model for sporadic ALS. He has co-authored eight peer reviewed publications spanning a broad range of topics. Fernando graduated cum laude from Princeton University, receiving his AB in physics. He holds a MS in biophysics from Stanford University and completed a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences at UCSD in the laboratory of professor Gene Yeo.

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KATHERINE KURYLO

Senior Research Associate

Katherine has over a decade of experience in developing cell based assays for high throughput screening and target validation. Her work at Five Prime Therapeutics, in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline, culminated in a published patent where Katherine is a co-inventor for a novel target to treat respiratory disease. More recently, Katherine developed functional cellular assays supporting several immuno-oncology programs at Nurix. Katherine received her BS in Bioengineering from UC Berkeley. In her spare time, Katherine enjoys cycling, hiking, and training her Japanese Akita.

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STEPHEN VITO, MS

Senior Research Associate

Steve has spent the past 6 years working in both industry and academia focusing on the development of novel therapeutics in the CNS.  His graduate work centered on developing medical countermeasures to acute seizures and neuroinflammation caused by chemical threat agents as part of the NIH’s CounterACT program as well as testing the efficacy of novel therapeutics for the treatment of neuropathic pain.  His previous industry work has focused on neural circuit mapping using optogenetics as a method to discover novel drug targets for the treatment of metabolic disorders.  He holds Masters Degrees in Pharmacology and Toxicology as well as Animal Biology from UC Davis.

 
 

Advisors


Scientific Advisory Board

PAUL AISEN, MD

Scientific Advisor

Paul is the founding director of USC Alzheimer's Therapeutic Research Institute. Aisen has been a leading figure in Alzheimer’s disease research for more than two decades, having developed novel methodologies as well as designed and directed many large therapeutic trials.

ERIC SCHADT, PHD

Scientific Advisor

Eric Schadt is the director and founder of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology and chair of the Department of Genetics and Genomics Sciences at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Previously, Dr. Schadt joined Pacific Biosciences as Chief Scientific Officer in June 2009 to oversee the scientific strategy for the company, including creating the vision for next-generation sequencing applications of the company’s technology. Dr. Schadt is also a founding member of Sage Bionetworks, an open access genomics initiative designed to build and support databases and an accessible platform for creating innovative, dynamic models of disease. Dr. Schadt’s current efforts were motivated by the genomics and systems biology research he carried out at Merck to elucidate common human diseases and drug response using novel integrative genomics approaches based on genetic and molecular profiling data. His research helped revolutionize a field in statistical genetics (the genetics of gene expression), has energized the systems biology field, and has led to a number of discoveries relating to the causes of common human diseases. As of earlier this year, greater than 50% of all new drug discovery programs at Merck in the metabolic space were derived from Dr. Schadt's work. Dr. Schadt also holds an affiliate professor position in the Departments of Medical Genetics and Biostatistics at the University of Washington in Seattle, and he was recently appointed as Fellow to the Institute of Systems and Synthetic Biology, Imperial College London.

 

GEORGE CHURCH, PHD

Scientific Advisor

George Church is the Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and MIT, and has been a founding member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. Church is known for his professional contributions in the sequencing of genomes and interpreting such data, in synthetic biology and genome engineering, and in an emerging area of neuroscience that proposes to map brain activity and establish a "functional connectome." Among these, Church is known for pioneering the specialized fields of personal genomics and synthetic biology. He has co-authored more than 330 publications and 60 patents.

ROB TIBSHIRANI, PHD

Scientific Advisor

Robert Tibshirani is a a Professor in the Departments of Statistics and Health Research and Policy at Stanford University. His most well-known contributions are the LASSO method, and Significance Analysis of Microarrays. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2001 and a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012.

GUOPING FENG, PHD

Scientific Advisor

Guoping Feng is an investigator at the McGovern Institute and the Poitras professor of neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. Feng studies the development and function of synapses – the junctions at which nerve cells come together – and the relationship between their disruption and brain disorders. He has won numerous awards, including the Beckman Young Investigator Award (2002), the McKnight Neuroscience of Brain Disorders Award (2006), and the Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award (2006).

JEFF ROTHSTEIN, MD, PHD

Scientific Advisor

Dr. Jeffrey Rothstein is the Director of the Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins and Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience. A respected neuroscientist, Rothstein is credited as being one of the world’s top ALS researchers, especially in the field of glutamate excitotoxicity. He is the Director of the Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute, a campus-wide collaborative organization that brings together Hopkins' more than 450 basic and clinical neuroscientists.

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RUDOLF JAENISCH, MD

Scientific Advisor

Rudolf is a founding member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and Professor of Biology at MIT. He is a pioneer of transgenic science, in which an animal’s genetic makeup is altered. His work focuses on understanding epigenetic regulation of gene expression (the biological mechanisms that affect how genetic information is converted into cell structures but that don’t alter the genes in the process). Most recently, this work has led to major advances in our understanding of embryonic stem cells and “induced pluripotent stem” (IPS) cells, which appear identical to embryonic stem cells but can be created from adult cells without using an egg.

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JASON CHEN, PHD

Co-founder, Advisor

Jason has been conducting biomedical engineering research for over a decade in labs at Siemens Medical Solutions, Duke University, and UCLA. He has co-authored over 12 publications in peer-reviewed journals such as Journal of Neuroscience, PLOS Genetics, and JAMA Neurology. He graduated summa cum laude from Duke University, with a double major in Biomedical Engineering and Chemistry. In 2010, he began training in the UCLA-Caltech MD/Ph.D. program, with a focus in bioinformatics. His work aims to improve the welfare of patients with neurological and neurosurgical diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, autism, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, frontotemporal dementia, progressive supranuclear palsy, Chiari malformation, and hydrocephalus.

 

Strategic Advisory Board

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ELLIOT EHRICH, MD

Industry Advisor

Elliot is Senior Vice President of Research & Development and Chief Medical Officer at Alkermes plc, with responsibility for the discovery, delivery science, research and development, project management and medical affairs functions. Prior to joining Alkermes in 2000, Elliot spent seven years at Merck & Co. Inc., overseeing the successful clinical development and registration of novel pharmaceuticals. Elliot is a Fellow of the American College of Rheumatology and has had numerous publications in peer-reviewed journals. Elliot was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Princeton University where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in biochemistry.

THOMAS LARGE, PHD

Industry Advisor

Thomas Large is CEO and Co-Founder of Blue Oak Pharmaceuticals, a company focused on using systems neurobiology and informatics approaches to discover and develop drugs for mental health.  Previously, he led discovery, preclinical research and translational medicine for ten years at Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc. (originally Sepracor Inc.).  Under his leadership, the discovery group at Sunovion developed a target-agnostic approach for CNS drugs by integrating research collaborations worldwide. 

Prior to Sunovion, Dr. Large was a scientific leader and manager for eight years at Eli Lilly in neuroscience research, where he led several projects that resulted in clinical candidates for anxiety, psychosis and pain.  During his tenure with Eli Lilly, Dr. Large also managed a group developing innovative approaches for drug targets in the central nervous system (CNS), endocrine and oncology therapeutic areas.

Dr. Large holds a PhD in Neurobiology/Physiology from Northwestern University and completed a Howard Hughes postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Large has served as a faculty member of the Department of Neurosciences at Case Western Reserve University Medical School.

GWEN MELINCOFF

Industry Advisor

Gwen is the Vice President, Business Development at BTG plc. Previously she was Senior Vice President at Shire Strategic Investment Group. Gwen Melincoff is a key force behind many of Shire's M&A and technology licensing agreements, and she has played a crucial role in helping the global specialty biopharmaceutical company grow. Through her former position as head of Shire's Strategic Investment Group and in other business development executive roles at the company, she's helped expand Shire's reach and product roster a number of times.

SAIRA RAMASASTRY

Industry Advisor

Saira Ramasastry, Managing Partner of Life Sciences Advisory, is a seasoned industry insider with over 18 years of transaction and advisory experience. Prior to LSA, Saira helped found and establish the leading life sciences franchise on Wall Street at Merrill Lynch and was responsible for emerging biotech coverage. Saira is a recognized thought leader on life sciences public-private alliances and is frequently called upon as a speaker. She serves on the Industry Advisory Board of the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, lead business advisor for the European Prevention of Alzheimer's Dementia (EPAD) consortium and as a Special Advisor for the G8 Dementia Initiatives. She serves on the Boards of Directors of Sangamo Biosciences (NASDAQ: SGMO), Repros Therapeutics (NASDAQ: RPRX) and Pain Therapeutics (NASDAQ: PTIE).

 

Investors


 
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